Truth Cypher Uses Spoken Word as a Platform for Art and Activism

By Casey Koldewyn

Poetry performances, especially spoken word, utilize multiple platforms at once to tell a story and to convey a message. The word-based performance art imbues humanity into language usually confined to the page. Being able to see a poem’s creator and hear them read their work is an entirely different experience from simply reading it. Hearing the inflections of the poet, watching their faces add to the story built from the words coming from their lips, forms a bond not easily replicated.

Such relationships and connections are especially useful when dealing with difficult subject matter like race. Truth Cypher is the third installment of six Martin Luther King Jr. Day-related speakers and artists taking the stage in the Union building, beginning Jan. 18 and ending after a day of service on Jan. 23. Truth Cypher is a group that specializes in Spoken Word as a platform for art and activism.

Neelam Chand, director of Communications and Development and chair for the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. week-long celebration, explained this tradition of expanding Martin Luther King Jr. day to an entire week’s worth of keynote speakers, performance art and discussions, all revolving around race and impact, has been around for quite a while. This year’s celebration marks the tradition’s 32nd Anniversary.

“For the past three decades, we have honored and celebrated the work of Dr. King and the great strides made in order to create equity and equality,” Chand said. “Our Dr. King celebration is unique in that we don’t just celebrate for one day, we utilize the whole week to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy and use the week as a platform to share ideas, thoughts and opinions around Civil Right issues today.”

Truth Cypher’s performance will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 19 at noon in the Union East Ballroom. The performance takes place after a march from East High School to Kingsbury Hall at the U on Jan. 18 and a Q&A session with activist and blackgirldangerous.org website and blog founder, Mia McKenzie, whose activism background has taken place largely via social media, as Chand said, “to create a space for queer people of color to express themselves on intersecting systems of oppression.”

According to Chand, “Truth Cypher is a community of writers, storytellers, and spoken word poets that are local to our Salt Lake community. Along with students from the U, they will perform spoken word pieces about their own equality struggles.”

Chand explained the importance of having a group like Truth Cypher on campus, saying that, “Truth Cypher is a great example of how art, words, and poetry can be used in work of activism and enact social change.”

Take advantage of the many opportunities available to you during this 32nd annual MLK week at the U. As McKenzie’s work is always working to assert, and as the U’s Ethnic Studies page devoted to her Q&A session reiterates, the key to combating [racism/sexism/oppression] is doing the work of educating ourselves, and what better way to do that than to attend the events offered at the U during MLK week?

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